"After thirty or forty years’ experience, since the separation, however, it was ascertained that the Old School were not all dead, that some were still in existence, and by some unaccountable means they were in a state of outward prosperity to all human appearance. This so astonished the New School that they, supposing a good name was becoming popular, and might be some cause for success, suddenly changed their tactics, and assumed the name of “Old School or Primitive Baptists” to themselves, which they had themselves given to the Bible Baptists, and had for many previous years been aspersing and holding in the greatest contempt!"
There are several things that Hassell states that demand examination. First, however, let us notice the time period referred to by Hassell when he says "after thirty or forty years’ experience." If we take the starting date of 1827 (Kehukee Declaration) and add thirty years, then we are at 1857 and are specifically talking about the period from 1857 to 1867. There is no question but that the whole period from 1827 to 1867 (forty years, or a generation) is most important in studying the beginnings of "The Primitive Baptist Church." Further, a closer look at the time between 1857 to 1867 is also very revealing. What does Hassell say was happening in that period?
First, he says that it became evident that the prophecy about the demise of the newly formed Hardshell denomination, first uttered in the 1830s by the opposers of the Hardshell schismatics, was finally proven to be false. He says that the Hardshells were "in a state of outward prosperity" and this was evident "to all human appearance."
One cannot help but think of how the Hardshells want to have it both ways. They want to say, as Hassell does for the Hardshells of the 1850s and 1860s, that their prosperity proved that the "Missionary" or "New School" were wrong and that they were right, but then, at other times, when the Hardshells acknowledged their decline, or lack of prosperity, they would say that such a decline proved that they were right (for the truth is always with the little few they say). So, their contradiction is what is self evident.
Hassell says that the Missionary Baptists began to acknowledge that they had been wrong to have prophesied of the downfall of the Hardshells and that they, in the 1850s and 1860s, were confessing that error. He also says that these Missionary Baptists, who had long opposed the Hardshells, were "astonished" at the continued existence and growth of the Hardshells. Not only were the Missionary Baptists astonished, but they were also puzzled and bewildered about the reason for the astonishing phenomenon. He says that it was by "some unaccountable means." However, he then argues that such a realization led the Missionary Baptists to account that the success of the Hardshells was due in large part to their marketing of themselves as the "Old School," or as the "Primitive," Baptists.
Of course, Hassell makes statements under the appearance of "history" which are simply opinions that are put for facts. Hassell shows that he is writing primarily for the cult members, and not as an apologetic for others to examine and judge. Cult members will accept statements by their leaders as facts without the least effort to verify the truth or accuracy of those statements. Hassell offers no proof for his conclusions. He does not give citations from Missionary Baptist sources of the period in question to substantiate his allegations.
Further, the first opposers of the Hardshell schismatics, men like R.B.C. Howell and J.M. Peck, who predicted the decline of the "old school," did not, to my knowledge, ever predict the total extinction of the new heretical sect. What they predicted was a decline toward practical nothingness, toward being such a minute part of the Baptist or Christian world.
Indeed, at one point in the 19th century, the Hardshells were a leading force, representing a large number of people, especially on the frontier, but that time is long past and the "Primitive Baptist" denomination has dwindled down to probably less than 50,000 people. So, the prophecy was not proven to be false, but time has rather shown it to have been genuine.
Secondly, Hassell represents it as a new practice in the 1860s-1870s for Missionary Baptists to argue that the Hardshells were really the new Baptists, and not the real primitive Baptists. I have already shown how both Peck and Howell early on, in the 1830s, argued that those calling themselves old school or primitive Baptists were not really so. They did this by showing Baptist precedent for mission work and for theological education. Of course, in the first generation time period, there was no disagreement or debate over whether the Scriptures or the Baptist confessions taught the use of the preaching of the Gospel as a means in the eternal salvation of sinners. The fact that there was a larger number of Missionary Baptist historians and apologists in the 1860s and 1870s who were arguing as did Peck and Howell proves nothing.
Hassell said that the second generation Missionary Baptists, in studying the matter, began to suppose that it was in the Hardshell choice of a denominational name, and the marketing of the name, that led the Missionary Baptists to adopt the Hardshell practice. The truth of the matter is that the Hardshells adopted the name of "primitive" or "old school" as a tactic and as a way to market themselves. The fact is, however, that they mislabeled themselves, for they were not in keeping with the traditional beliefs and practices of the English and American Particular Baptist churches. The answer to the question - who is the rightful descendant of those first Baptists who gave us the accepted confessions of the Particular or Regular Baptists? - is an easy one to answer, as I have shown. I have the benefit of others before me, like Howell and Peck, who totally demolished the Hardshell claims.
Also, the point being asserted by Hassell assumes that the Missionaries of the 1860s and 1870s were envious of the numerical growth of the Hardshells and coveted their tactics. But, how can this be when the Missionary Baptists were outgrowing the Hardshells in that period by a large percentage? Hassell insinuates that the motives of the Missionaries, in claiming to be the real Old Baptists, and in denying the pretentious claims of the Hardshells, were not doing so because they really believed such, but only wanted to claim to be so in order to be successful like the Hardshells. Such Hardshell apologetics!
Perhaps Hassell, in talking about the 1860s and 1870s, has in mind the controversy led by Dr. Graves in this time period. During this time there was much debate among Baptists, including those in the young Southern Baptist Convention, concerning principles of Landmarkism, including the propriety and scriptural basis for "mission boards." Graves led a wing of Baptists that would later become known as the "anti board Baptists." These agreed with the Hardshells in their protestations against certain mission methods and organizations, yet they did not oppose all mission work, for they stressed that mission work should be in the control of local churches. Graves and the leaders in the Landmark anti board wing, however, were staunch opponents of Hardshell beliefs and practices. They would never have admitted that the Hardshells were the true old Baptists and that they were themselves new.
"For some few years now prior to the writing of this history, their ablest minds, through the medium of pulpit and press, have been endeavoring to prove themselves the veritable Primitive Baptists of the nineteenth century! It is likely their affliction will increase as the prosperity of Zion becomes more and more manifest, and the well established among themselves forsake them and go where they rightfully belong, to the citizenship of the saints and the household of God."
"Their ablest minds," in the time period under consideration, "have been endeavoring to prove themselves the veritable Primitive Baptists of the nineteenth century." Again, the insinuation is that this was the first time that men had called into question the claim of the Hardshells to being in agreement with the Baptists of preceding centuries. I am sure that Hassell knew how Peck opposed Parker in the 1820s, and that he answered the Hardshell claim that theological schools and missionary organizations were new among the Baptists. I am sure that he knew of Dr. Howell and how he stated, in "The Baptist" of the 1830s, how the claim of the Hardshells to being primitive was false. Many others could be named from these early decades. These denied that they were departing from the historic teaching of the Baptists.
Remember that the first Hardshell apologists not only arrogantly claimed that they were the true primitive Baptists, but denied that any others were. They not only marketed themselves as being "old" or "primitive" but constantly labeled Baptists who supported missions and seminaries as being "new school," that is, the bringers of new beliefs and practices. Why would the supporters of missions and theological education not respond to the claims of the Hardshells? Hassell wants us to believe that it was not till a generation later that Missionary Baptists began to deny that the Hardshells were the truly old school or to claim that they were the real old Baptists.
As we have seen, however, the Hardshells have no historical records to show that there were any Baptists who held their views in the 17th and 18th centuries. Mission organizations existed in those previous centuries. So too did theological schools. But, where were the Hardshell protesters? They did not exist!
Remember also how the first Hardshells in North Carolina considered and adopted the name "Reformed Baptists" for awhile before they began using the terms "old school" and "primitive" as their distinctive modifiers. Why would they do this if they really thought that they were opposing what was totally new belief and practice among the Baptists? However, if they knew, as did Beebe, that the Baptists had a prior tradition of these things, then truly "reformed" would have been the proper adjective. It would have been an acknowledgement that what they were then advocating was not the general Baptist belief or practice of the time, though it had been sometime in the more distant past, but it needed to become once again Baptist belief.
Hassell, in talking about the prosperity of the Hardshells called it "the prosperity of Zion," for in his mind, the Hardshell church and Zion are one and the same. He said that the "affliction" of the Missionary Baptists "will increase" in proportion as "Zion" increases. Hassell calls his work a "history" but it has more such accusatory language than it does pure history. I have not referred to my own work "The Hardshell Baptist Cult" as a history, although it has lots of historical information in it. I think my work is similar to Hassell's in that it is really an "apology" or rational defence. Hassell's is an apology for the Hardshells, and mine is an apology for Mission Baptists. Further, I don't think that I have made charges without proof. My work is not mere opinion.
Notice that Hassell makes the most uncharitable accusation against Mission Baptists. He says that they are opposers of Zion, and are they who rejoice when Zion declines and mourn when she increases. But, this is all in keeping with Hardshell precedent, for their beginning was marked by the harshest judgments and denunciations, calling those who supported Sunday Schools, theological schools, and mission organizations, followers of Antichrist and a part of the mother of harlots. One cannot call Hassell's accusations "history" but biased opinion.
Hassell also gave his own prediction of the future as respects the prosperity of the Hardshells. He said that the prosperity of the Hardshells would become "more and more manifest" and that "the well established among themselves," that is, among the Missionary Baptists who are furthering the will of Antichrist, "would then forsake them and go where they rightfully belong, to the citizenship of the saints and the household of God." Notice again how in Hassell's mind the Missionary Baptists are not part of the citizenship of saints or the household of God. Making such an accusation and claim is proof that the Hardshells are a cult.
Were there Missionary Baptists who became Hardshells? Yes. But, were there not Hardshells who became Missionary? So, what does this prove?
In the next chapter we will continue to examine Hassell's anti mission apology.